My friend had such a brilliant idea of writing about evidence behind ‘dadi maa ke nuskhe’ (Grandma’s prescription/ formula). I was looking at various formulas and remember even now when we have colds or aches – often turmeric with milk or turmeric with honey and warm water is always on top of the list.
Coming from an Indian family I have had turmeric in my masala pot throughout life, as we use it in most of our curries and lentils. It is even used as face rub for ‘Haldi ceremony’ in weddings and meant to clear the skin.
Now working as a GP and Lifestyle Medicine Physician I am seeing many people use it as an anti-inflammatory.
So I thought of looking at the evidence behind the use of turmeric.
Turmeric is part of the ginger family and has an active compound ‘Curcumin’ which has been seen to have the anti-inflammatory effect similar to non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS) (1). However, curcumin has also been seen to have antimicrobial and anticancer properties. Its main effect is as a result of its antioxidant properties. The oxidative stress in the body leads to inflammatory cascades being activated. And one of the main radical which can neutralize the oxidative stress within the body is superoxide dismutase (SOD). In this systematic review and meta-analysis is was seen that the use of curcumin significantly increases the levels of SODS (2).
It is important to note that ingesting turmeric on its own has poor bioavailability of curcumin. Peperine, the active ingredient in black pepper combines with curcumin to increase its bioavailability by 2000% (3).
Curcumin may reduce the accumulation of fat within the liver cells and reduce metabolic imbalances (4). I was surprised by this as currently there is an increase in fatty liver disease due to the rise in obesity globally. This article also talks about the anticancer effect and anti-ageing effect of curcumin in turmeric, which is not surprising given the anti-oxidants it is loaded with naturally (4).
Turmeric has been seen to help with improving pain and physical function in knee osteoarthritis. It is safe and in when added in small amounts not shown to have any side effects. In fact, the effect of turmeric has been compared with NSAIDS in some studies, when used for pain (5)(6).
In small doses turmeric maybe beneficial for muscle soreness, management of inflammatory conditions like arthritis, high cholesterol due to its anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (7) (8).
This article was very interesting as it shows that using turmeric in hot water may have beneficial effect on mental health and negative mood, due to the chronic low grade inflammation associated with it (9).
I suppose these same reasons would also be helpful when treating colds, coughs and sore throats. I also remember people using turmeric as a poultice for infected bites or sore wounds. Curcumin in turmeric has been seen to active against various viruses, bacteria and fungi, as mentioned in many lab-based as well human studies (10). In this article it was interesting to note that local application of turmeric has been mentioned to be beneficial too, though further randomised controlled trials are needed prove the efficacy.
I use turmeric a lot in my day to cooking but also as part of my smoothies, in hot milk when I am looking for comfort in the evening or as a herbal tea with mint during a busy surgery day. The tip is not to forget adding the pinch of black pepper to get the full benefits!
I have a blend of my spice chai which sits in the cupboard ready to be used when I want. The recipe is below:
Six teaspoons of cinnamon powder and ginger powder each
Two teaspoons of turmeric.
Half a teaspoon of black pepper
Two pinches of nutmeg
Blend them together and they can stay in a sealed jar for ages.
I loved stirring in some with honey and sipping it whenever I want- with water or soya milk. I can easily mix it in my chai too. I give it to my sons just mixed with a teaspoon of honey when they have colds.
Hope this was an informative read and now you know the reason why grandma’s have been so fond of turmeric over the centuries!